Hamilton teen Raihan Audu spent two days cooking a Thanksgiving meal entirely by himself for his family. The 14-year-old never imagined that a photo of the feast would bring at least a little joy to hundreds of thousands of people.
His older brother posted a photo of the meal on Twitter — showing bowls full of sweet and savoury foods, with chef Raihan at the helm of the table. Raihan only knew it had been posted when his brother called him at school to say that thousands of people were sharing it on social media.
"I checked his Twitter, and it was already at 10,000 likes. And then it kept on going up, and it was overwhelming," Raihan said, adding that the comments were telling him what a good job he had done. "It was really nice."
At the time of writing this article, the picture had been liked more than 787,000 times, with almost 70,000 retweets.
Raihan started helping his mother make Thanksgiving dinner when he was 10 years old, but over the past few years, he's taken more of a lead.
His older brother who shared the photo, Fadel Audu, said it has always been clear how much passion Raihan has for cooking.
"He's always been making food and going online and looking at recipes. Just making food all the time," he said.
When Fadel came home at 11 p.m. on Oct. 11, the day before Thanksgiving, his younger brother was already in the middle of cooking the holiday meal for the next day.
"Apron on, dough everywhere, all that stuff," he said. "Then I wake up the next morning and he's still in the kitchen cooking."
The teenage cook didn't stop until 2 p.m. on Monday.
The end result was a series of dishes that featured macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole, two types of rice and a turkey — which even managed to surprise his older brother. It wasn't like a "regular, dry" turkey, he said — it was a lot better.
"The food's really good. I'm surprised he was able to get every single dish to taste good," Fadel, 19, said.
"I'm very proud of him. He really has talent. He gets better every single time he cooks, every year."
Getting creative in the kitchen
Raihan, who came to Canada with his family in 2010, was born in Ivory Coast. His parents are from Nigeria.
He started cooking early on, with simple things like instant noodles, but was driven to make meals that were complex and incorporated a lot of different dishes, like Thanksgiving dinner.
Raihan said he made the marinade for the turkey with onion, garlic and lemon, and applied butter under the skin without ripping it. Then he basted the turkey every so often.
The time crunch, Raihan said, is part of the fun.
"It's really intriguing, the preparation it takes," he said. "Also, the amount of time it takes. How you have to manage your time to meet deadlines.... I have to finish all by [1 p.m.]. So, it's just fun getting to be in the kitchen, get creative and make interesting meals."
The cook is self-taught and looks up recipes online. But he said he changes them, adding different flavours, and keeps recipes he creates in a book.
"I make my own twist to it by adding different things to make it taste better," Raihan said.
He said he likes to cook traditional Nigerian foods, like amala and jollof rice, but also pizza, wings and lasagna. The teen also delves into baking croissants and French baguettes.
Raihan said he gravitates toward a lot of Cajun seasonings, jalapeno peppers and Scotch bonnet peppers.
'I feel like he deserves this recognition'
Fadel thought people would be interested in seeing how talented his younger brother was, but he never thought the photo would get such incredible traction.
"I'm very happy for him. He's being doing this for a long time, and I feel like he deserves this recognition. Every time he cooks, I could always see him being on MasterChef [for] kids, cooking it up. I think he can really do it," he said.
"When I'm in the kitchen, and I'm just making my simple stir fry, he's beside me making some colossal creation that I would have never thought of. And it's really good, too."
Raihan said he's going to start posting cooking videos on his new TikTok account, raihancooks, so people can continue to follow some of his Thanksgiving recipes and other foods he loves to make.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.